Biggest Takeways from Start of Montreal Canadiens' 1st-Round Playoff Matchup
The Canadiens have done a lot of things right in opening up a three-game lead over the Lightning. The Habs have been the dominant team in what was expected to be a tight affair before the series began.
Montreal is getting contributions from everyone on its roster as the team is playing its best hockey of the season. But certain players, and certain aspects of the game, have stood out more than others so far in the playoffs.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the start of the Canadiens' first-round playoff matchup against the Lightning.
Rene Bourque Is Alive and Well
What a series Rene Bourque is having. You could actually argue that he has been the Montreal Canadiens' best player through the first three games of the first round.
Nobody saw this coming.
In fact, if Alex Galchenyuk was available for this series, Bourque would probably be watching the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs next to George Parros, Douglas Murray and company as a healthy scratch.
But time and time again, players take advantage of others' injuries and work themselves into the spotlight, and that's exactly what Bourque has done against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Through the first three games, he has three goals, a plus-three rating and a team-high 15 shots on net. He is also tied for the team lead with eight hits. And he's been doing all of this while playing the majority of his shifts against Steven Stamkos and friends.
Bourque has found the proverbial next gear that is needed to succeed in the playoffs. He's been fast, fresh and, most importantly, confident. He's playing at a level that makes it easy to confuse his jersey No. 17 with Max Pacioretty's No. 67.
He has always frustrated Canadiens fans who have watched him fail to live up to his potential. The skill has been there, but the effort hasn't. He seems to be making up for that now.
Bourque has been a wonderful surprise to the start of the playoffs, and his emergence is a big reason why Montreal has a 3-0 series lead.
Carey Price Is Now Locked In
Carey Price's Game 1 performance had his critics questioning his ability to perform in the playoffs. The box score looked like many of his past playoff starts: four goals against and a .840 save percentage.
True, those numbers aren't good enough, especially not in the playoffs.
But those who watched Game 1 saw that he did not have much of a chance on any of the goals against. They also witnessed him get better as the game went on and make some key saves during the overtime period.
His Game 1 performance wasn't as bad as the box score read. He played well enough to win. And since then, he's looked more like the Price we saw through much of the regular season and in Sochi.
He followed up his Game 1 performance with 26 saves and the first star in Game 2. While the final score read 4-1, he had to make some key stops when the game was still close. He looked to be on his way to a shutout before Tampa was able to score off a lucky bounce while on the power play with less than two minutes to play.
He then made 27 saves in Game 3, most of which came in the second half of the game as Tampa desperately tried to erase a two-goal deficit. There were some nervous moments in the Bell Centre, but Price stayed calm to preserve the win.
He has played well enough to have a 3-0 record in the playoffs. He has a 2.12 GAA and a .914 save percentage so far.
He hasn't necessarily had to steal a game yet, but that time is sure to come in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. He looks ready to do so when called upon.
Montreal Is Taking Advantage of Tampa Bay's Injuries
The Montreal Canadiens have been fortunate with injuries so far in the playoffs, with depth forwards Alex Galchenyuk and Travis Moen being the only two hurt.
The Tampa Bay Lightning haven't been so fortunate, as their top goalie, leading scorer and captain have all missed time due to injury in this series.
But credit the Canadiens for taking advantage.
They peppered backup goalie Anders Lindback with shots in Game 1m and it worked. He let in some easy goals that Ben Bishop would have stopped. The Habs kept coming hard in Game 2 and eventually chased Lindback from the goal.
Montreal also did a great job of shutting down Tampa's offense when leading scorer Ondrej Palat was out of the lineup in Game 2. The Lightning became one-dimensional, and all the Canadiens had to do was double-team Steven Stamkos whenever he touched the puck.
The Habs also managed to score while Stamkos was in the dressing room with a head injury in the second period of Game 3. He did return to the game, however, and has vowed to play Game 4, as reported by TSN.ca.
There is no doubt that the injuries to the Lightning have hurt them this series. But the opposition has to take advantage of that kind of situation, and that's exactly what Montreal has done in Round 1.
The Power Play Is Slowly Waking Up
Going into this series, the Montreal Canadiens' dormant power play was one of their biggest concerns. And while it hasn't been great by any means, it is showing signs of life and could finally be getting back on track.
For the series, Montreal is just 1-of-11, with Brendan Gallagher redirecting a P.K. Subban slap-pass in Game 2 for the only marker. The rate of 9.1 percent is nowhere near good enough, and the team needs to start scoring more while up a man.
But since that Game 2 goal, the Habs look to be playing with a bit more confidence on the power play. Their passing has been better, and they're making the right shot selections. They just can't put the puck in the back of the net.
Credit Anders Lindback for that. He has not had a great series overall, but he has been stellar while his team is killing penalties. He has stymied the Canadiens' top power-play unit time and time again in this first-round series.
The power-play stats don't look much better in the playoffs than they did at the end of the regular season. But the Canadiens are getting their chances, and it only seems like a matter of time until the breakout.
The best news for the Canadiens is that they have a 3-0 series lead and have done so without much help from their power play. They will need to score more if they hope to make a deeper run in the playoffs, however.
The Canadiens Are Playing Their Best Hockey of the Season
The biggest takeaway from the Montreal Canadiens' first three games of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs is simple: They are playing their best hockey of the season.
Up front, four forward lines are all contributing. It may have taken him 82 regular-season games, but Michel Therrien seems to have finally found the line combinations he has been looking for.
On defense, the Habs are getting solid play from all three pairings. Both Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban are showing their star qualities and playing at the top of their games. Alexei Emelin and Josh Gorges have both been solid, while the new third pairing of Mike Weaver and Francis Bouillon has done its job.
Carey Price has, of course, been excellent, making key saves when needed. He's the backbone of the Canadiens and is always ready to pick up his teammates.
The penalty killing has been solid, just as it has been all season. The unit has given up two goals in six opportunities, but both came on funny bounces and were more luck than anything.
And while the power play is just 1-of-11, it is getting shots and scoring chances.
Therrien has his group playing its best hockey at the right time of the season, and Canadiens fans couldn't ask for more. The Habs have a 3-0 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning and will go for the series sweep on Tuesday night.
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